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Posts tagged ‘Philippines’

Palawan Paradise

Day 11 here in paradise and so much to catch up on. The beauty of this country continues to amaze me. Bohol was fun and now it was time to hit a full week in Palawan where I’d find my wingman for the week. A 20 year old friend and trusted travel companion, we met up in Puerto Princessa which is the capital of this island at the very west of the Philippine islands. Yes Gunar is shorter than me so I made him stand below me.

The must see attraction in this area is the Underground River tour which is a breathtaking 8km deep river tunnel with cathedral lake ceilings of rock carved out over millions of years and about a million bats throughout that apparently take great joy in pooping on tourists. It’s called guapa and if it happens to you you’ve been “guapaed”. Literally I had seen nothing like this in my life. Continuing to embrace an environmentally focused mindset the tour forbids any talking while on the river tour as it effects bats navigation who rely entirely on sonar pitches to fly around the pitch black caves. Instead they give you a recording device and ear buds and you follow along a narration. At one point in the tour the guide turns out his light and you can’t see the hand in front of your face. Amazing. After the river cruise we also participated in the package zip line ride and mangrove tour. Good but nothing compared to the underground river.

Puerto Princessa in the rear view mirror we next headed for El Nido which was 250km/5 hour drive away. Gunar and I went into full fragile old guy mode and rented our own private car rather than cram into a van with 10 others with no leg room. Our driver was Jeffrey who was awesome and alarmingly sane consider he does this round trip drive EVERY DAY! That’s 5 hours there and 5 hours back plus any breaks in between. Next time you think you have a tough gig at work just think of Jeffrey who grinds out each day, with a smile.

El Nido welcomed us with our own personal greeting and some world class sunsets. Our most important decision to make immediately upon arrival at happy was which 2 for 1 drink to order and find a great spot to take in paradise level sunsets.

If I have any one bone to pick with this wonderful country its an inability to make a good cocktail. I ordered a mai tai but got an orange creamsicle.

Gunar and I went to dinner one night and I was in the mood for a Martini which was a bold move. Strategically like Trump avoiding the draft with bone spurs I deferred but instead had Gunar order one first. Good thing as his drink arrived and it looked like water taken directly from a pond in Chernobyl. We sent it back and said no vermouth and the next one came back even darker and more vermouthy. Knowing they were still cooking my dinner and could sweet revenge for being that problem table that kept sending drinks back I offered to drink it but could not get through the first sip. Time to take matters into my own hands and show my Philippian friends how to crank out a world class martini. My gift to the people who have given so much to me.

Scooter bikes rented yesterday to find a world class beach which was achieved at Lio Beach about 15 min outside of El Nido. Free lounge chairs and a beach nearly to ourselves with multiple bars and restaurants steps away. It’s crazy how easy it is to find your own little peace of paradise.

Today was a travel day from El Nido to Coron for the last phase of our trip before heading home – another full day of kayaking. The ferry ride over was a scheduled Donut Monday authoring time but 15 foot swells put that plan on hold. Good to see Gunar there in my time of need.

Clearly I was still woozy from the trip later that night

Zzzzzz time

Become The Local

Day 7 here in paradise and we’ve moved on from the amazing beaches and torn up roads of Boracay to the island of Bohol and specifically Panglao. A day long trek that took a trike, jetty boat, plane, ferry boat and one more long trike. Beer me. Never did I appreciate my backpack more though it’s crazy how many folks I see with roller bags.

My new digs is a new set of villas set off from the main hotel that was just recently built. So new that the taxi trike driver could not find it and at some point pulled me into a locals home driveway that could only be properly described as “rustic. Like outhouse level rustic. Just before I could call the Expedia hot line we realized our mistake and I was all checked into paradise.

The hotel was about 3km (yeah they use the metric system here folks) from the main drag of Alona beach so some quick math determined I was going to put a trike kids though school. 400 pesos per day and the most basic signed waiver later and I’ve got my own ride, a late model yellow tourist scooter with a half tank of gas and unlimited gusto. I hopped on and cranked that baby to what I considered top speed for me, only to be immediately passed by a family on bike, with a toddler, and groceries.

Bohol is the island that always seems to be on the verge of a apocalyptic rainstorms that never come to fruition. A lightening bolt hit the water offshore and I hit the floor like someone yelled incoming but the locals never flinched. Even today when we went for an early morning snorkeling tour on what I could only describe as a boat made of bamboo powered by a lawnmover engine all I could see was a black cloud from the edge of the water to heavens. I checked the itinerary to see if this was a 3 hour tour. Indecisive if only because there is no itinerary. Just give someone 700 pesos and see what transpires. Today was great snorkeling with reefs that seem very healthy and seeing dozens of huge sea turtles.

7 days in and I’m getting the hang of this. Thank you has become “Salamat!”

“Would you like to take an island hopping tour?” Yes and I did that yesterday my friend

“Would you like to rent a scooter?” I just waive my scooter keys around my finger and a knowing smile.

“Sir you so white. Would you like some sunblock? I have special SPF120 for you!”

Some things you can’t escape

Be the local.

Tomorrow I rendezvous with my fellow Umbrellahead in Palawan and start week 2 of this Philippine adventure

Rapids, Rappelling and Roasting

Day 4 into the Philippine adventure and the theme of the day is rapids. A full day of white water kayaking with a side adventure of waterfall repelling and the most unique hot tub experience I’ve ever had.

The day starts early with a 6:30am pick up by my guide Jodil who works for Tribal Adventures, the local tour outfit that organizes this trip. This was my far my costliest excursion of the trip but it’s primarily because I was the only one in my tour. October is still off season here in Philippines and it’s a 10-12 hour day which many avoid. Throw a few others in and it’s more than a reasonable price but I didn’t care. This was an adventure I was looking forward to. It was almost 2 hours to get to our destination. 30 min on a trike, 20 to jetty boat over to the mainland and just over an hour of driving to the mountains. The drive itself is an adventure. Imagine a road full of tricycles and mopeds and we are in a big Toyota van dodging all of this at 60 mph. Not one horn. Not one angry gesture. It’s just how things work here.

Before we could arrive at our destination we had to stop and pick up lunch. I’m not talking sandwiches or fast food. I’m talking about fresh fish caught earlier that morning. A Whole chicken. The freshest of fresh vegetables. All in a bustling farmers market that was tarped to easily accommodate the average Filipino height. I’m 6’1 so I pretty much was in the crouch position for 20 minutes holding mangos, a dead chicken and rice. Feel the burn.

We then set upon our arrival to our destination at the kayak Inn which is ground zero for our adventures today. We met the Filipino family that lives here all year round managing the inn and organizing the food and hot tubs (more on that later) There are 6 kids and about as many dogs which scurry around the grounds. Assuredly I will find another canine fiend today. Everyone is happy and very welcoming as always. I realize now why our guide bought so much food for lunch to feed one guest….most of it goes to the family on site.

We started off on a quick waterfall hike with our guide Ryan. I know his name is Ryan because that was the name on his shirt but not one word came from his mouth. He’s a nice local kid who is designated to take tourists to the local waterfall. Jodil came with us too. Imagine a 3 level waterfall, each with its own pool to swim. We made it up to the top, the last part of which required rapelling up using a rope and some hopefully sturdy well gripped shoes to make it up the sheer cliff. We made it surprisingly easily though I found a new level of sweating I did not think possible. Jumping into the cool pool of natural spring water was welcome relief.

A 30 min hike back to the Kayak Inn and a hearty lunch and it’s kayak time.

These are special Filipino style kayaks that are sit on top style with special drainage to keep the water from pooling too much. They cut through the water so easily. I had some kayak experience before but almost entirely of the sea type excursions. Regardless the safety lesson was brief ( Go down the river. Don’t fall out. If you fall out reminder that you signed the waiver and the check has already cleared my friend) The outfit actually takes safety very seriously and had another kayak guide and 2 spotters down the river to guide me to the exact spots to navigate to. I never felt they would not be there to rescue my ass if I got into a pickle. It was a 4-1 ratio guides to me. Plus 2 of the family dogs that accompanied us on the trip and hitched a ride to the back of kayak when they feel like it.

I felt confident and perhaps a touch brazen which quickly evaporated when I got caught up on a shallow rock not 30 seconds into the trip and had to be turned around by one of the spotters who “walked” over in 3 feet of water to help me. But I quickly recovered what was left of my manhood by navigating through the first few rapids unscathed. These are class 2 and 3 and while they don’t look that big of a deal from the shore its verified sphincter tightening scary when you are going through the rapids in an open kayak. You try your best just to point the boat downhill and the water decides what comes next.

We are down to the final rapid which is full class 3 and narrow. This is actually the pull out area above the rapid for most of the tourists but the consensus from the guide team is that I’m good enough to get through it. My chest extends slightly outward simultaneously with a slight head expansion. I’m back to full strut mode. I see a handful of local Filipino boys purched on a rock at the bottom of the rapid. Clearly word has spread quickly that a pasty white foreign prodigy has descended upon this tiny town. They are here to witness this first hand, or compete for the 500 pesos to retrieve my body. Either way I feel like I’m making a contribution.

My guide gives a few final instructions, a motivational tap on the helmet like a team coming out of a huddle on the final drive of the game. No timeouts left. It’s win or go home. And 30 seconds in on the tiniest of rapids of what is to come I get dumped into the water and now I’m dog paddling to survive. Even the dogs, who adored me, again admittedly driven almost entirely by my pork table scrap generosity, can’t look at me now. Imagine a scene from the Simpsons when Homer is rolling head over feet getting smashed, a rapid succession of “Dohs!”

The local Filipino kids admiration quickly transitions to a scoring a quick 500 pesos but even that hope is dashed as I am able to get through the rapids relatively unscathed save for my ego which is still pierced on one of the rocks from now to the end of time. I hear a monument is in the works. Philippine President Duterte exchanges tweets with Donald Trump to consult on my new nick name. They agree on Litl Canadian Hoser while my U.S. citizenship is revoked. But even at my lowest Jodil my guide fishes me out the water at the bottom and gives me a big grin smile. I think he enjoyed it more that I fell in. I love that guy.

Waterlogged but still in good spirits we shuttle back to the Inn where I’m offered (and eagerly accept) a cold San Miguel. Part of the tour experience is a hot tub which is essentially a large cast iron pot with water that is heated by fire below. It’s set to about 104 degrees and filled with a concoction of native leaves, some special bark and other various ingredients that are supposed to bring some medicinal effects. I ask the local hot tub preparer guy if they have anything in there to heal egos. He just stares at me with a big smile. There is no cure for that whitey. I hop in because when it’s 85 degrees all day with 100% humidity that mandates 3 shirt changes a day what’s better than to jump in water that is 20 degrees warmer? Go with it. The hot tub guy hovers and asks me how I like it. Takes a few pictures. Keeps smiling. I can’t help but think something is off here. He offers if I can stay for dinner. But is that a question or statement? I look down at the water. That’s not eucalyptus leaves. Those are bay leaves! That’s not local tree bark. Those are peppercorns! And why are there wedges of onion scattered throughout the water? I’m not being hot tubbed. I’m being slow roasted! Brined Canadian Pork! It’s time to go.

2 hours and 3 modes of transportation later I’m back in Boracay and while a local Filipino family won’t be having pork tonight they can still savor the time they saw a Canadian boy take on the rapids and dog paddle his way to (Not) glory.

Special thanks to the gang of Tribal Adventures for organizing an amazing day. I highly recommend them and will be using them again next week in Coron for another kayak and snorkeling adventure!

Sweaty Island Hopping

Here I am full into day 2 of my Philippine adventure and already the trip is living up to high expectations. The Filipino people are amazing and have made me feel very welcome (and safe) every step of the way so far. Other than a short layover in Manila to catch some zzz’s after a long flight over I’m hitting 5 total destinations in 2 weeks. Boracay, Bohol, Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron. October is towards the end of rainy season but since I’ve arrived I have yet to see a drop of rain. I’d actually welcome a bit of rain if it would cut the heat a bit. Temperatures range from mildly sweating in the mornings before 8am, aggressive sweating from 8am to 1pm and downright dripping sweat until sundown. But I just embrace it and plan on a few laundry days.

This is the journey each morning from my hotel to the main drag in Boracay which is broken into 3 stations. It’s about a 30 min walk which is a large contributor to the sweat scenarios but the view is worth it.

This is the death climb I do twice a day. I work out 4-5 times a week and I’m drenched with sweat at the top. I just jump right into the pool.

If I don’t want to walk I can take a motor trike home which is essentially a motorcycle with a side car. 200 pesos which is the equivalent of $4. The journey encapsulates the haves and the have nots. 5 star hotels with every amenity imaginable beachfront with shanty style units across the street. The road to my hotel is outside the main drag and is crammed with all the locals who serve those who visit the islands. It’s a simple and perhaps hard life but I get the sense the people of Boracay wouldn’t trade living anywhere else and the sense of community and family is strong.

Any stroll down the beach front inevitably comes with tourist pitches to do any number of activities and I was happy to indulge in an island hopping tour. 5 hours to hit 2 snorkeling destinations, 2 beaches and lunch over 5 hours. 800 pesos which is $16. You can’t beat that deal. The entire country is incredibly reasonable cost wise by western standards and in some cases downright cheap. 500 pesos ($10) for a 1 hour massage (still on my list to do) $3 for full laundry service. $2 for pretty much any alcoholic drink. No tipping required but I do it anyway. I’ll remember Boracay from now on every time I have to pay $35 to park for a sporting event or $25 for a glass of wine.

I had some time to kill before my island hopping excursion started so I hit a Starbucks aka a sweat break zone with killer AC only to be outdone by the view. I defy you to find a more amazing view in any Starbucks in the world. And I had the place almost entirely to myself.

My boat was filled with a hodge podge of tourists from all over the world. There was the 3 Saudi men who only spoke Arabic and spent most of the trip making fun of each other, culminated with the part of the trip that had one of their friends getting hit by wave after wave splashing over the side of the boat. There were the 2 K-pop Korean women in their early 20s that were posing and posting selfies to Instagram ever 19 seconds. I’m not far off on this time estimate. I did my best impression of a small sampling of their favorite poses below

The rest of the boat were all Chinese, most at or near retirement age. Very friendly. Very aggressive on getting in whatever line for snorkel gear, lunch or whatever. I was always last which personified my island time mentality. They are masters of this trade craft. The snorkeling was just ok. Very small fish and the coral looked very bleached which is an indicator of a reel in stress. Global warming is everywhere. I was just happy to be floating and swimming in a sea that is the most beautiful turquoise you have ever seen. The Boracaians are very environmentally friendly. No trash anywhere. Banned straws. Limited fishing.

This is where we stopped for lunch. It’s essentially someone’s house in the backyard with extremely tasty local Philippine cuisine and hungry yet well behaved dogs that will welcome any scraps but don’t beg. This is my new friend who enjoyed the head rub almost as much as the pork I was sharing with him. (Editorial update – we interviewed the dog and he confirmed his attention was driven entirely by the pork)

5 hours later I’m back at the port and my tricycle was calling for a ride back to the hotel to rest my weary feet. The decision was culminated when my driver said he needs to go very fast to have enough power to make it up the hill road to your hotel. Is that OK? Hell yes that’s ok.

Evening time and I’m back at station 2. Traditional dinner of Filipino cuisine and 3 beers later $17 total) I’m strolling down the main drag. Every bar has live music and I settle at The Bom Bom bar (it’s not what you think you heathens) and drain one more beer listening to live reggae band with a lead singer that should probably be on American Idol he was that good.

My head hits the pillow 30 min later into a very welcome air conditioned bedroom and day 2 is officially put to bed.